The North Face began stepping up their shoe game a few seasons ago. Especially with the advent of their dual-density Xtrafoam, things are looking good for the brand. When they sent out the North Face Ultra mid boot with Gore-tex Surround, I thought I’d have gobs of opportunity to test it out. Then, mother nature intervened. Denver is supposed to get just under a foot of snow in March, on average. It received none. April produced one, big dump that melted within a day. Finally, in the third week of May, the sky smacked us with about two feet of sloppy, wet snow. So out came the Ultras!
In Which I Hate on Gore
First, a declaration: I’m biased against Gore-Tex shoes. I think, in most cases, Gore-Tex has no place in outdoors footwear. Sure, there are exceptions – snow shoeing (with gaiters), for example. But, for most people, it most conditions, it causes more problems than it solves. Gore-Tex, even at its best, can’t keep up with the amount of sweat human feet produce – up to a pint per day. That moisture ends up sitting in the shoes, causing trouble. Liquid water can’t escape through the membrane. And, they also dry more slowly. (Also, I refuse to capitalize ever letter in all of Gore’s tech. Turn off your caps lock, Gore!) Andrew Skurka expresses it much more thoroughly.
That said, Gore and The North Face do strive to eliminate all of those issues. The Ultra Mid uses Gore’s Surround tech to try to push more of that moisture out of the boots. Surround uses an open-cell foam spacer between the Gore booty and the midsole to allow air to move through to the membrane. In theory, it means more moisture can escape from the bottom of your foot. In practice, eh.
The North Face Ultra Mid Boots Features
Ok, enough ragging on Gore – What about the boots themselves?
TNF put some thoughtful features into the Ultra Mid. Starting from the bottom, you get a grippy, Vibram Megagrip sole. While the lugs aren’t exceptionally deep, they grip well on snow and trail. The midsole is dual-density EVA foam. North Face calls it Cradle – softer foam underfoot cushions while denser foam around the edges supports and locates your foot.
The main boot is made of a combination of two kinds of mesh, PU-coated leather, and rubberized screen. Light mesh on the top of the toes is meant to provide air movement. The sides of the foot have the rubberized screen on the lower half and a more durable mesh on the upper. Leather reinforcements are distributed on high wear areas like the toe and heel.
Inside the collar, you’ll find FlashDry, North Face’s wicking fabric. The insole is a thin piece of Ortholite. Replace it. The tongue is gusseted to maintain the integrity of the Gore booty. There’s just enough material there to allow room for your foot to slide in without the gusset bunching up and causing hot spots.
Lower lacing is typical – the lowest eyelets sit just above the ball of your foot and they extend to your instep. There’s a metal loop to transition to the upper laces, though it doesn’t offer any locking capability. Two upper lace hooks on each side offer some adjustability, but I found the laces too short to use both of them. If you use the lower one only, the tongue tends to find its way out of the collar.
Review – Wet Snow Arrives
First question – does the boot keep moisture out. In fact, it does, unless you step in deeper than the tongue gusset. But, even with Gore’s Surround, it also keeps moisture in.
Second question – how does it fit? I’d say they’re pretty narrow. I have wide feet. If I could wear Altras all day, every day, I would. But the Ultra Mids really had to stretch to hold my feet in. Take a look at the comparison with my Altras and see how much my foot extends over the midsole on the Ultras. (Ultras, Altras….hmmm). But, I’m atypical. If you have average feet, you’ll probably be fine.
Traipsing around in the snow, my feet were in good shape. Vibram’s Megagrip keep me planted, even though the snow on our front steps had consolidated into something…frozen slush? Not-quite-ice? Of note – there is no insulation in these boots. If your feet tend to run cold, these are not for you. However, that also means that your feet won’t be sweating as much.
North Face lists the Ultra Mids at 14.9oz (422 g) per boot. They weigh 16.9oz on our scale. That said, they don’t feel heavy in your hand or on your foot.
Others have noticed that there’s an alignment between the gusset seam and the metal lace hooks that presses right on the ankle bone. I can feel how that may bother some people. It wasn’t an issue for me in my time wearing the boots. Definitely pay attention to it when you try them on and make sure you’ll be comfortable before buying.
I’d suggest The North Face Ultra Mid boots for low-intensity activities in the snow like recreational snowshoeing or winter hiking. I would not suggest them for warm weather adventures. Don’t take them out on a backpacking trip and expect dry feet after a river crossing.