The North Face Ultra Vertical is a shoe that promises to give you the grip to feel confident as you up your pace on the steeps and get out on the technical trials. This shoe seems to deliver more than not.
It gives an incredible underfoot feel in the grip and aggressive lugs, and on normal days it keeps your feet feeling cool and comfortable.
However, it has it’s drawbacks. The biggest of these drawbacks may just be the thing that keeps runners away.
The North Face Ultra Vertical General Info
The Ultra Vertical sits near the top of the North Face’s line of trail shoes. I would consider it their premier option of technical trail runners.
With the most aggressive sole unit and specific cushioning for the up and downhills. This shoe will compete against the likes of the Nike Terra Kiger and Wildhorse, and Salomon’s XA Pro 3D and Speedcross.
When these shoes showed up I was excited to get a look at them. They were very eye catching with a bright orange and red sole unit — that subdued with mud and dirt — and a clean gray upper.
Although you can tell from the moment you pick them up, there will be no wearing these as everyday shoes — not with those lugs.
On my first run in these, they grabbed the dirt — and mud — without giving up. They took a 10-mile run on wet trails without batting an eye. Although not fully cushioned, they gave great energy return and kept me moving forward.
The North Face Ultra Vertical Sole Unit
The sole unit of this shoe is, in a word, awesome. Let’s start from the top, and work our way down. This sole unit offers a nice 6mm offset from heel to toe. The heel sits at 25mm while the toe box is at 19mm of height.
This sole unit uses Dual-density CRADLE™ GUIDE midsole using a firmer top layer for added stability and a deeper cushion on the bottom to increase comfort.
This dual layer EVA is designed to “for anatomical cushioning when ascending and descending” and is something you can feel underfoot while tackling the hills.
The midsole is high quality and a great product. However, the outsole is where this unit truly shines. The Vibram® Megagrip sole uses 5 mm lugs that are “anatomically oriented for ascending and descending” to offer up supreme grip and for durability in all conditions.
I tested this outsole in dry, wet, muddy, rocky, dirt, grass, gravel, cedar chip and pavement; it preformed supremely in each instance. There was never a point in these shoes where I felt my feet slipping.
The North Face Ultra Vertical Upper Info
The upper fits a little large. I usually wear a size 13, and these 13s were a little longer and wider than I am used to. However, I don’t know that sizing down a half-size would have worked for me (12.5s are not easy to find).
Using a traditional construction, with seems, this upper offers protection and some overlays to be able lock your foot in. However, these don’t work 100%.
The upper uses North Face’s Quarter geo cable construction — think Nike Flywire — to help change fit and feel of the upper.
The cables have a shell over the top to help protect the midfoot and offer more support — this shell helped stop multiple branches from poking my feet and shed rocks well.
These cables and the shell are placed over a tightly weaved mesh which offers great breathability and helps release water that gets into the shoe.
With these other features, perhaps my favorite feature was the reinforced toe, meant to offer protection during technical runs.
This piece of hardened rubber over the toe actually does work well, as it protected my toes on multiple runs where I made contact with rocks, roots and other things. Each time, I could feel the rubber doing its job.
The upper, however, does not hit all the checkmarks. Since it fits a little large, and the design of the upper, my forefoot never felt fully locked in.
The cables did well in tightening the shoe and could lock in my heel or midfoot. But the forefoot would move side-to-side and could rub my feet to the point of blistering.
This usually wasn’t an issue unless I was on more technical trails and was going for more than 10 miles. However, for a shoe designed for technical terrain, this is an issue.
The North Face Ultra Vertical Conclusions
The North Face Ultra Vertical is a shoe that has a lot of great features. I enjoyed nearly every run I did in them — and not just for getting on the trails.
These shoes offer perhaps the best grip I’ve ever experienced in a shoe — with maybe the only exception being the Salomon Speedcross Pro.
Designed for technical trails and the ascents and descents involved with trail running, these shoes will deliver on all their promises.
The bigger issue, of course, is the fit of the upper. While I never felt as though I would slip, the forefoot slipping inside the shoe could get distracting on some runs.
If you’re plan is getting up and then safely back down the steeps and you can find a version of the shoe that fits correctly — about a 1/2 size smaller — then these shoes may just be what you’re looking for on those technical and rocky trails.
We thank the nice people at The North Face for sending us a pair of Ultra Vertical to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.