The North Face's Ultra TR III is awesome. This shoe has grip. This shoe has speed. This shoe performs.
As you continue to read, you will come across 3 sections: Why?, Why Not?, and Conclusion.
My review will focus on the reasons the shoe could work for you (Why?), what may not work for you (Why Not?), and some final thoughts (Conclusion).
The North Face has paired with Vibram to create an incredibly grippy outsole. The outsole truly did inspire confidence.The rubber compound works well with the multi-direction lugs.
The Ultra TR III worked well for me in all conditions: wet, dry, dirty, rocks, roots, mud. Really was struggling for grip, searching for different lines, worried about losing track speeding downhill, or powering uphill.
Additionally, I have put nearly a hundred miles on them and the outsole shows no signs of wear. Although, I do have other concerns regarding durability.
My only concern with the outsole is the lugs seem to grab onto mud so well, they don't want to give it up. Even miles later (see picture below) mud was stuck between the lugs.
This didn't seem to affect the grip too much, but the added weight was unnecessary. More space between the lugs may allow the shoes to shed mud more easily and reduce the weight.
2. Ride & Performance
The Ultra TR III rides true to its design. On the trail, it feels lightweight and nibble. The midsole is made from The North Face's FastFoam technology.
The FastFoam provided both comfort over long distances and a snappy responsiveness at faster paces. Even at faster paces on asphalt and gravel, the midsole was responsive.
In my opinion, this rides very similar Nike Kiger trail runner. They both have a similar feel and drop heights.
The Ultra TR III ride was so much better than the Ultra Cardiac II, it makes me wonder why they didn't use the same FastFoam technology in the Ultra Cardiac II. This shoe also has a good amount of flexibility, I find many trail shoes to be overbuilt in the midsole. It was great to run in a shoe that could provide a road like response and snap in a trail shoe.
The Ultra TR III does lack a rock plate. I did not find this to be a problem on rocky or root-filled trails. If you run on more mountainous terrain with jagged rocks, you may want a shoe with more protection. I would rather have the increased flexibility opposed to a rock plate.
3. Fit & Comfort
The North Face Ultra TR III is true to size. The size 11.5 that I have fits perfectly.
There are no hot spots where blisters may form. The shoe volume is pretty average throughout. There is plenty of room in the midfoot and toebox is not incredibly spacious either. If you are looking to try these out, you can be confident they are true to size.
In general, the shoe is conformable but not perfect. I never thought to myself, "whoa this is one conformable shoe." However, I never thought the opposite either.
I was able to go for a 2 hour plus trail run and forget they were even on my feet. Any shoes that I forget I am wearing are a winner in my book.
1. The Upper
The upper of the Ultra TR III is just average. With a great outsole and a good ride, the upper is a little disappointing. The upper is about 50% welded overlays which will provide a ton of durability over the life of the shoe.
However, these shoes are not so breathable. Most of the miles I have put on this shoe have been during the winter months, and even on days below freezing, I was wanting something more breathable.
The tongue works, but it could be more comfortable. The tongue is a suede material with no padding. I am sure it was designed this way to sure weight. I think The North Face could have added some padding to the tongue and it would have only added a couple of grams of weight.
The laces are just not good. They were my only real complaint about the shoes. I disliked them so much I replaced them with some elastic quick laces similar to those found on Salomon shoes.
The original laces seemed too wide for the eyelets and this made it hard to adjust the fit quickly. They never came untied, they were just difficult to adjust.
I do have a couple of durability concerns. My biggest concern is the outsole is starting to pull off of the midsole at the toecap.
The outsole itself shows minimal signs of wear, however, it is beginning to peel away from the midsole in several locations.
Although the Ultra TR III does feel light under foot, my size 11.5 came in at 343g or 12.1oz. This is 2 oz. more than the advertised weight.
I found this a little surprising as the Ultra TR III feels more like a 10 oz. shoe as opposed to a 12 oz. shoe. Because the Ultra TR III feels lighter than it measures, the extra weight is not a huge concern for me.
The North Face Ultra TR III blew away my expectations and performed great on a variety of terrain and distances. I do have a few concerns but the performance of the midsole and outsole greatly outweigh these concerns.
This shoe has the ability to tackle a variety of terrain and comfort for ultra distances. I truly believe with a few tweaks this shoe can come compete with some of my favorite trail shoes, Nike's Kiger or Salomon's Speedcross.
The North Face (TNF) describes the Ultra Trail III this way: “Watch your mileage goals increase exponentially in these training shoes that are ready for race day, yet capable of high-performance training.”
Do we agree? See the verdict below.
The Ultra Trail III weighs 9.8 ounces and has a 6mm drop. According to TNF, “[The shoe] is made with our new Fast Foam midsole system that maximizes energy return and [is] finished with Vibram Megagrip soles for traction in all conditions.”
The Fast Foam midsole consists of two sections melded together: a soft core for cushioning and responsiveness, and a firm perimeter providing some stability.
The Ultra Trail III is quite attractive, at least in the Griffin Grey/Poinciana Orange colorway. The colorway is quite similar to the Grey/Ibis combination on The North Face’s hybrid shoe, the Ultra Cardiac II. The Ultra Trail III is clearly well manufactured with no visible defects.
The shoe retails for $110.00, which is the same price as the Ultra Cardiac II. (Note that the Ultra Cardiac II is a heavier shoe at 11.2 ounces.)
The fit of the Ultra Trail III is true-to-size and close to perfect. It’s not too tight or too loose and there’s something unique about the Ortholite “footbed” insole. Unlike most running shoe insoles these days, it’s not overly thick and bulky. And it’s perforated which presumably assists with air flow.
The tongue is gusseted, but only at the top. We’ll have more to say about the tongue as we continue.
The Ultra Trail III is labeled as a neutral shoe, and it is definitely that. The shoe allows for natural foot strikes. Yet there’s enough structure in it to keep one’s feet moving straight forward, unlike some ultra-neutral shoes in which one’s feet go – to use a technical term, loosey-goosey.
The Ultra Trail III feels great on dirt and gravel trails. It is quite protective on asphalt while supplying a high measure of energy return. In my experience, it has the best bounce-back of any TNF shoe.
Where the shoe absolutely shines is on hard-packed, uneven dirt trails. The Ultra Trail III provides for an excellent sense of balance on these trails; this builds up confidence which translates into speed.
The Vibram sole on the Ultra Trail III deserves a good amount of credit for the dependable grip on any surface. Although there are no forefoot grooves in the sole – something present on the Ultra Cardiac II, there’s sufficient flexibility up front for almost all runners.
Is there a rock plate on the shoe? No, but frankly it’s not needed on hard rock surfaces. The Vibram sole combined with the TNF Fast Foam midsole provides plenty of protection for vulnerable feet.
Initially, the Ultra Trail III feels like a very good shoe to use for slow to medium-paced training runs. (Recall that The North Face itself refers to it as a training shoe.) But the notion of the shoe being fast, enhancing speedy training runs or being used as a race-day shoe did not enter my mind… Until.
Until a local high school finished its installation of an expensive rubberized track (a type of sixth-tenths scale of the “million dollar tracks” that can be found at major colleges). On this type of select surface, the Ultra Trail III indeed feels fast even it is not quite on a par with the New Balance 1400 v6 racing flat.
The Ultra Trail III should get the job done for cross country team members on both training and racing days. Of import for more standard runners, the energy return bounce-back appears to – and likely does, double on a rubberized track. This is an unexpected, but welcome bonus.
The Achilles’ Heel
The Ultra Trail III has an Achilles’ Heel, and it’s not the way the heel collar supports or fails to support the Achilles Heel. The shoe’s massive flaw, a clear and obvious defect, is the tongue. This comes as something of a surprise since the tongue is gusseted. Most gusseted tongues on trail shoes do not move around very much.
Well, the tongue on the Ultra Trail III is gusseted at the top, but not at the bottom where it moves around. There’s about an inch and a half grey area at the bottom of the orange tongue that slips down. Constantly.
I found myself literally stopping about every mile and a half to redo the tongue. This means you have to pull up the tongue and re-tie the laces, presumably in order to better secure the tongue. But this does not work. It never works.
The thin tongue on the shoe has a small pad near its top which is supposed to help hold it in place. It fails to do so. So let’s hope that The North Face gets the message if and when the Ultra Trail IV is released. It needs a new tongue – preferably a thick one which does not move around!
A Note about The North Face
My experience with running and trail shoes from The North Face is that they are continually improving in utility and quality (with the exception of the tongue on one model). But it’s worth noting that the company had a high point earlier in 2013 when they released not one but two exemplary running shoes.
The first of these shoes was the Ultra Glide, about which the June 2013 issue of Running Times stated, “Our testers liked the Ultra Guide more with each run, and multiple testers said they took it on limit-pushing runs.” The Ultra Guide weighed 10 ounces and had a 7.4 mm drop.
The other shoe was the Hyper-Track Guide, one of my all-time favorite running shoes. According to Running Times, “TNF might have called the Hyper-Track Guide the Hybrid Guide because it’s built to accommodate road and trail. Lacking the rock plate protection of the Ultra Guide, the Hyper-Track is a more flexible but otherwise similar shoe.”
The Hyper-Track Guide also weighed 10 ounces and had a 7.8 mm drop. The shoe offered outstanding responsiveness on most surfaces, and the heel cushioning was set to a not-too-soft, not-too-firm Goldilocks setting.
We know that New Balance recently brought back the once-classic 890 due to popular demand – after a hiatus of over four years, and Brooks revived the Launch to please its customers after once killing it off.
Is it too much to hope that The North Face might bring back its two classics as the Ultra Guide 2019 and the Hyper-Track Guide 2019? Let’s hope not.
The North Face accurately refers to the Ultra Trail III as a high-mileage trainer that can also be used on race day. And it is correct that the shoe “maximizes energy return” and uses its Vibram sole to provide a high measure of grip on virtually any surface.
I recently came across an automobile review in which the reviewer summarized the Volkswagen GTI as a car exhibiting calm excitement. The Ultra Trail III exhibits calm confidence.
The Ultra Trail III is more than a trail shoe, it’s a relatively lightweight hybrid that can be used on trails and roads and sidewalks.
At $110.00, the Ultra Trail III is well priced. But in order to – excuse me, take the next step, The North Face needs to install a proper tongue on this model.
The North Face Ultra TR III reminds me of old 1980’s tennis shoes, simple and plain.
I had the Ashes of Roses Grey color and unfortunately, it did nothing to inspire me. Maybe if you like light colored shoes, then these are for you.
On the upside, I have extremely big feet, women’s size 11, and these did not make it look like I was wearing clown shoes.
The Ultra TR III was surprisingly comfortable. They are lightweight, soft to the touch on the inside and relatively plush. The toe box is very comfortable with plenty of room to splay your toes.
They fit true to size, with just a touch of extra length but not even a half size bigger. When you first put your foot in, it feels good. No weird arch or points that are pinching.
The tongue...the tongue is weird. It’s super thin, almost like a sheet of paper thin.
It has a bit of padding but only in spots and is connected by this stretchy, spandex-like material to the rest of the shoe.
It’s well ventilated and breathes well but it does feel weird to the touch and has an odd shape.
They feel soft and spongy when you first put them on. No break-in time is required.
The cushioning is evident in both the forefoot and the heel. I wore these around the house when I wasn’t running because they were so comfortable.
The Ultra TR III is extremely breathable.
Every facet of this shoe is designed for maximal air flow. The tongue is thin and perforated.
The outsole has plenty of vent holes and even the insole as shown below is ventilated. Your feet will not overheat in these.
This shoe handles a variety of terrain exceedingly well. I used it on ice, slush, gravel and wet dirt roads.
The lugs are of good size and positioned in a way that rocks don’t get stuck between them. I don't have the need to clean out the bottom of the shoe as of yet.
These shoes feature a durable but lightweight Vibram sole.
One caveat, they are not waterproof. In fact, they have so much ventilation that you need to watch where you are walking.
These are not the shoes you want to wear thru snow or slush because your feet will get wet and cold. Similarly, in mud puddles or small streams, your feet will get wet.
While I saw no visible signs of wear on the sole or outside of the shoe, I’m concerned about the area where the stretchy interior liner connects the tongue to the inside of the shoe.
After just a few months of wear and less than 75 miles, the stitching looks like it is fraying.
Aside from a very oddly thin tongue with a bizarre shape, trail running shoe with ample cushioning and traction for a variety of terrain.
I was pleasantly surprised by both the ample cushioning and breathability. Hopefully, The North Face will come up with more inspiring colorways for this trail runner.
Good to know
- In the third edition of the Ultra TR series, The North Face gives the market plenty of updates. Although the shoe still aims for and functions on high-mileage runs, users will receive a whole new running experience, thanks to the shoe’s restructured composition, updated materials, and added features. Moreover, the Ultra TR III is now able to take runners to race days.
- From the Ultra TR II’s ripstop-and-suede upper, this version ventures back to the air-mesh-and-TPU combination for a tandem of breathability and support.
- A new midsole is also introduced in this iteration, in the form of the just-released FastFoam™ technology. Conversely, the bottom retains the tried-and-tested Vibram® rubber outsole, this time utilizing the Megagrip™ compound for the ultimate grip on various surfaces.
The Ultra III employs the running shoe standard in length and sizing measurements. It has an anatomical shape that follows the foot and enables a locked-down fit. Width profiles are in medium for both the men’s and women’s versions. Runners will be able to notice the adequate room for splay in the toe box, as well as the snugness of the midfoot and rearfoot area.
The famous Vibram® Megagrip™ outsole makes its way to The North Face Ultra TR III. This rubber compound is known for its exceptional performance on both wet and dry trails, while also delivering impressive traction on rugged and uneven terrains. The Megagrip™ compound, aside from grip, brings stability and flexibility for ground adaptation.
As an introduction to a new midsole material, the Ultra TR III presents the FastFoam™ technology. This dual-density cushioning compound has the optimal level of stability and responsiveness, thus ensuring energy return for high mileage and speed. The top layer has a resilient perimeter that prevents packing out, while the bottom layer disperses shock for smooth transitions.
Aside from performance, the FastFoam™ midsole also yields outstanding comfort. It is designed to be soft but not mushy, to guarantee a spring in each step.
An OrthoLite® sock liner aids the shoe by presenting additional underfoot cushioning.
The Ultra TR III employs air mesh on the vamp and quarter areas of the upper. The material has a more open structure compared to regular mesh, thus enhancing breathability. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) overlays assist the air mesh for support and structural integrity. They are screen-printed with a stripe pattern for decoration.
The shoe has a gusseted tongue made with suede, which contributes an accurate and comfortable fit as it hugs the top of the foot.
A 3M® reflective printing at the heel side permits visibility while the runner is out in low-light conditions.
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