"They'll handle rocks and mud with steep technical terrain until the cows come home!"
Aviemore manager Martin Bell only took up running 6 years ago but caught the running bug almost instantly. Since then he has tried various race distances but it's the longer trail and mountain ultra events which have really got him addicted to running. Living in Aviemore gives him the perfect training ground to get his running legs fit for events such has the Highland Fling; 53 miles along the West Highland Way, Great Glen Ultra; 72 miles from Fort William to Inverness and the CCC in the Alps; over 60 miles from Courmayeur to Chamonix.
Thankfully Martin is a fan of going up hills as well as coming down them, which gave him the perfect opportunity to try out the new The North Face Ultra MT. Designed by The North Face specifically to tackle the toughest of trails either at home in the mountains of Scotland, the fells of the Lake District or the rugged mountains of the Alps.
The first things that came to mind when I tried on the new Ultra MT's were protection, stiff sole, tough upper, steep muddy terrain and a roomy fit with generous toe box. I've only been for a handful of runs in them so far, but I've made sure they've been tested in the right conditions. They've been up through the trees totally off path with a steep incline and they made me smile because it was a route I'd not normally do and they handled it no bother. Next few runs have been up Corbetts, some with a mile or so on well-defined path, then up steep rocky paths, followed by a pure bogfest that leads over boulders and more bogs! Great fun!!
Fit and feel
The laces are pretty thin & made from a tough cord, but as long as you double knot them they don't work loose. The overall fit of the shoe is quite roomy, but I prefer having extra room by my toes so when coming downhill my toes don't bash the front. I have to lace the shoes pretty tight but when I do, there's no movement inside.
The tongue comes up a little short in length compared to my other shoes but does have a nice padded backer to it. They have an 8mm drop on the shoe (18mm/10mm) which is quickly becoming the norm nowadays.
Size 8.5 comes in at 300grams per shoe, which isn't the lightest out there but it's certainly not heavy and I prefer the extra protection this offers even with a few extra grams on my feet rather than going all out lightweight and them falling apart too quickly.
I had thought they would feel a little clumpy on the flat easy paths, but they were fine and no issues. Going up over rocky terrain they really impressed me. I used to love my older The North Face Ultra Guides but my main gripe was when running Munros I'd trash the toes as there wasn't enough protection from rocks and boulders. With the new MT's that has been addressed and the protection they offer is superb, mainly at the toe and heel areas, but you also get a pretty water resistant ripstop mesh outer that looks and feels as if it's built to last, not like on some other shoes that end up splitting in the upper after just a bit of punishment. When you look inside the shoe you can see they have built lighter mesh panels at the sides of the tongue which will help with breathability. They have incorporated ‘FlashDry' technology into the shoe which again will help with moisture management.
The sole itself is made from Vibram MegaGrip. The direction of the lugs under the rear of the foot has been changed to offer fantastic grip when going up and down in muddy conditions and I can confirm that they love mud!
So as a summary, this is the shoe you need if you are heading into the hills and mountains where you need extra protection. They'll handle rocks and mud with steep technical terrain until the cows come home! This isn't for well-groomed easy trails, they want to get off and explore the places where you'll need the features this shoe offers. My advice – try them on, if they fit and this is the sort of shoe you're looking for, then buy them and get out and enjoy them!
The Ultra MT's are available in both men's and women's versions from Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports.