For any experienced runner out there, the top priority when it comes to gear is an obvious one - running shoes!! In the modern era of running where there are more options than km’s to run, choosing the right running shoe can be a challenging experience, even for those with years of knowledge. The ever changing landscape of race profiles (technical single track vs smooth free flowing jeep tracks, mountains vs beach vs desert vs grassland terrains) and runners (park run weekend warrior vs fast marathon distance racing snakes vs ultra distance endurance machines) has led running shoe brands to continuously bring innovation to the forefront of running shoe design and the Ultra Swift is no exception.
The Ultra Swift is the latest edition to The North Face SA’s growing trail running gear options in South Africa. This sleekly designed shoe brings a balance of simplicity and technical features that are easy to understand for the potential customer.
At first sight, my initial impression was that the shoe did look quite different when compared to what traditional brands have when releasing but when putting this shoe on it was very simple - comfortable and light (301 grams).
As a light framed avid trail runner who likes to move fast over technical trails, I am always searching for the balance between comfort, support, durability and weight. The Ultra Swift ticks 2 out of the 4 boxes for me. Those are the comfort and lightweight aspects.
The sleek and almost minimalist design features a neutral heel drop. This worked out well for me as my foot strike is mostly neutral especially when I start to pick up the speed. Whether running 5km or 20km the inner sole managed to maintain comfort which can be attributed to the “XtraFoam” technology in the heel and the “FastFoam” in the forefoot.
The non-aggressive outsole is made up of the “EXTS” traction system that has 3mm lugs which allows for grip and stability. I found that this worked for me on smooth manicured trails that were dry but on technical and wet trails I really had to be careful and slow down quite a bit to avoid a head first encounter with the ground.
The Ultra Swift upper is made of an extremely breathable and light wicking fabric. This assisted in two parts mainly; quick water evaporation and keeping the overall weight of the shoe to a minimum. With the copious amounts of rain we have experienced over the past few months this feature really came in handy.
Unfortunately though you can't have it all and due to the very breathable upper, it feels like the North Face had to forfeit most support which is vital when running technical trails.
The other issue with the very light and breathable upper is the fact that it is not very durable. So when hitting some of the less travelled/rugged trails the upper ended up tearing.
As mentioned before, running shoes are designed so specifically these days that it is important to know what terrain and distances you are going to use the shoe for. For me I see the Ultra Swift as the “gravel bike” of trail running shoes. The shoe is great on district roads and jeep track where one would be looking to pick up some pace on moderate distances, 5km-20km. Anything technical or rugged and the shoe will not last very long.
Overall the Ultra Swift definitely has a place in the market. I would recommend this shoe to any newcomers to the trail running world who are still learning the ropes but looking for a quality shoe nonetheless or to even more experienced trail runners who need a shoe for those fast and fun training sessions. (all my hillsprint sessions are now done in this shoe)
At an RRP of R2199 it is positioned as a “mid-level” shoe and if used in the correct conditions will perform well.