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The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Review

The North Face Ultra 109 GTX - Editors' Choice Winner
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $120 List | $119.95 at MooseJaw
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Pros:  Great do-everything shoe, slim toe profile, excellent all-around traction, good torsional stability
Cons:  Not the most durable
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   The North Face

Our Verdict

We've awarded The North Face Ultra 109 GTX our Editors' Choice again this year! This is the best shoe we tested for folks that both hike and trail run. If you are accustomed to the fit and feel of running shoes, this is a perfect choice for dayhiking rough trails, wandering around the mountain trails with a daypack, or short backpacking trips. It's comfortable and provides enough foot support to keep you happy while light backpacking for a couple of days.

The North Face describes the Ultra 109 as a trail running shoe, but points out that the ESS midfoot shank and EVA midsole create the support and comfort for dayhiking and backpacking trips. It's quite heavy compared to many popular trail runners these days, but provides much more support and foot protection. It's one of the best shoes out there when you want one shoe for hiking, light backpacking, and trail running.

The Salomon XA Pro 3D is a very similar shoe we've reviewed in our review of the best trail running shoes, and if you're trying on some Ultra 109s, try the XA Pro 3D as well. They perform much the same and one may fit your foot better than the other. The lacing systems are both very good, but quite different, and preferring one over the other may be the deciding factor.


RELATED REVIEW: The Quest for the Best Men's Hiking Shoes of 2017

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Measured Weight of Pair, Size 12 Waterproof Lining Upper
85
$120
Editors' Choice Award
2.3 lbs. GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Mesh and PU-coated leather
83
$125
Best Buy Award
2.3 lbs. KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane Nubuck and textile
83
$110
2.1 lbs. None Suede leather
78
$150
Top Pick Award
2.5 lbs. GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Footwear Nubuck Leather/ 100% recycled Nylon Mesh/ Uretech
78
$140
2.2 lbs. GORE-TEX Full-grain leather, textile mesh, synthetic overlays
76
$210
2.7 lbs. Waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX Nubuck leather
75
$130
2.3 lbs. KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane Lightweight mesh, synthetic overlays
73
$169
2.2 lbs. GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Microfiber Forefoot, Ballistic Mesh, Exa Shell
69
$100
2.1 lbs. None Dura leather and mesh
68
$120
2.15 lbs. GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Air mesh and synthetic upper

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Brandon Lampley
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
May 18, 2015

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The North Face Ultra 109 GTX delivers the best combination of features for a hybrid trail running-hiking shoe. Comfortable, supportive, and durable, this hiking shoe has the fit, feel, and heel cushioning of a burly trail runner, with good support. The lines between types of outdoor footwear are arbitrary, and this shoe performed very well during our variety of hiking adventures. We also tested The North Face Hedgehog Hike GTX, a higher volume fitting shoe with a stiffer midsole. The Hedgehog offers good foot support, but we didn't find it as comfortable or versatile as the Ultra 109.

This shoe is comfortable and nimble on the trails. It breathes really well and is at home trail running or on short backpacking trips. Likewise  the Torrentshell rain jacket that Brandon is wearing offer plenty of mobility and comfort.
This shoe is comfortable and nimble on the trails. It breathes really well and is at home trail running or on short backpacking trips. Likewise, the Torrentshell rain jacket that Brandon is wearing offer plenty of mobility and comfort.

Performance Comparison


The Ultra 109 GTX was our top scorer in our hiking shoe review. Check out the chart below to see where the rest of the shoes fell in line behind it.


Comfort


One of the more comfortable shoes we tested, the Ultra 109 GTX feels good on the foot right out of the box, hikes well with minimal breaking in, and is supportive enough to remain comfortable during long days out. There's a bit more arch support than average and we found them to be cooler in warm weather than most of the other models we tested. Along with the Keen Targhee 2 and non-waterproof Vasque Juxt, this shoe earned the highest score for comfort.


We quite like the lacing system on this shoe, which has four lower webbing eyelets and two closely spaced traditional upper eyelets. The lower lacing eyelets are more widely spaced though, creating less bulk on top of the foot and accommodating more tightening for narrow feet. The two upper eyelets provide the opportunity to use one or both and custom fit the collar and heel.

Along with the Keen Marshall WP, this is the most breathable waterproof shoe we tested. A substantial portion of the upper is lightweight mesh reinforced with a thermoplastic urethane overlay. The mesh lets the Gore-Tex liner breathe well and the narrow TPU overlays provide a bit of additional support and serve to protect the mesh from abrasion.

The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is the best shoe we reviewed for moving fast. Hikers that also want a shoe for trail running need look no further.
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is the best shoe we reviewed for moving fast. Hikers that also want a shoe for trail running need look no further.

Weight


The size 12 model that we evaluated weighed in at 2.26 lbs, right in the middle of the nine products we tested. The other trail runner-like shoes we tested - the Adidas Outdoor AX 2.0 GTX and Vasque Juxt - weigh an ounce or two less, but just aren't in the same performance class as the Ultra 109.


Support


We scored this model in the middle of the pack for foot support. The ESS midfoot shank and molded EVA midsole create a somewhat stiff midfoot with a flexible forefoot. This is a great combo for running and moving quickly in rough terrain.


For folks that want more foot support, the Keen Targhee 2, a pure hiking shoe, provides much more foot support at the same weight, but keep in mind that the Targhee is not well-suited to running. The La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 and The North Face Hedgehog Hike GTX also provide more foot support but aren't as versatile.

This shoe provides great support for rough terrain relative to its weight.
This shoe provides great support for rough terrain relative to its weight.

Traction


The North Face's proprietary UltrATAC rubber sole features a series of lugs that vary in size and depth, and offer excellent all-around traction. Check out the chart below to see where the rest of the shoes in our lineup ranked next to the Ultra 109.


Unstable gravel and mud on the trail are no problem for the Ultra 109 GTX. When hiking fast or running, we were confident our feet would stay put in these challenging surface conditions. Rock slabs and wet rock was also no problem. The Ultra 109 was the only shoe that performed well in all four of our traction tests.

This model earned top scores in traction. It was the only shoe that was a top performer in all four traction tests.
This model earned top scores in traction. It was the only shoe that was a top performer in all four traction tests.

Versatility


The Ultra 109 GTX is an exceptional do-everything shoe, which is why it won our Editors' Choice Award. We used it dayhiking, fast hiking, and while carrying moderate loads climbing and backpacking. It's comfortable for all these activities, with enough foot support to carry a pack. This is one of the shoes we tested that provided good traction across the board. The North Face describes this model as a trail runner burly enough for light backpacking, and we agree. It was easily one of the best shoes we tested for running on trails.

With the slim profile and low key upper, it makes a great casual shoe, too. Folks that are on their feet a lot for work and need a comfortable black shoe love the cushioning and support.


Water Resistance


The uppers of this model beaded water well for a time, but they will benefit from a fabric treatment applied regularly. These shoes kept our feet bone dry playing in the edge of the river and splashing through puddles. However, the GORE-TEX liner will eventually become compromised at the forefoot flex point. This shoe can soak up a fair bit of water if repeatedly splashing through puddles, but dries fairly quickly.

While this model effectively beads water when new, regularly cleaning the shoe and reapplying a spray-on DWR treatment will help when you get out on the trail in the rain, or splash through puddles.


Durability


The North Face has done a good job adding some key features to the Ultra 109's upper to give the lightweight materials added life. A burly TPU toe cap up front protects your toes and the upper. TPU overlays help protect the mesh, and the leather portions have a PU coating at high-wear areas. That said, the single stitched seam where the leather meets the mesh at the forefoot flex point is a prime spot for early wear. Use some Seam Grip here. Finally, the relatively soft rubber soles deliver great traction but wear faster than harder formulations.


Best Applications


Our Editors' Choice winner is designed for hiking and rough trail running in varied terrain. It's a heavyweight among trail running shoes, which makes it great for dayhiking and carrying light loads. Indeed, it handled the whole range of our "hiking" adventures better than any other we tested. Backcountry running and fast hiking adventures are super fun, but often require you to hike in for a day. If you're planning to hike a day into a basecamp with a pack and then set off for a few days of trail running and peak bagging, this is the perfect shoe.

A closer look at some of the features that make this model a bit more durable than the competition.
A closer look at some of the features that make this model a bit more durable than the competition.

Value


$120 is a very reasonable price for such a high performing product, and you'll sometimes find a good sale price.

Conclusion


The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is comfortable, light, and has great all-around traction. If you want one shoe for trail running, hiking, and light backpacking, look no further! This was an easy choice for our Editors' Choice award! Dayhiking and sightseeing, or chewing up miles before it gets dark, we love this shoe.

Other Versions & Accessories


Ultra Fastpack GTX
  • Cost- $140.00 ($20 more than the Ultra 109)
  • Weight- 1 lb 7 oz (8 oz less than the Ultra 109)
  • Reinforced toe cap protection
  • Less breathable than the Ultra 109

Ultra Fastpack
  • Cost- $120.00 (same as the Ultra 109)
  • Weight- 1 lb 5 oz (10 oz less than the Ultra 109)
  • Reinforced toe cap protection
  • Non waterproof
Brandon Lampley

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 1, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (2.0)

11% of 9 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
10 Total Ratings
5 star: 10%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 90%  (9)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   May 27, 2015 - 03:15am
Fenway · Hiker · Salt Lake City, UT
Fit was fantastic for me! Performance on trail exceeded all expectations! Comfort factor to the max, no sore feet at the end of the day.
Then……….the fox strip on the left shoe, lateral side near the 5th metatarsal head, delaminated. The delamination rift measured approximately one (1) inch. The 109's were used for backpacking on established trails within the National Park System. Longevity was 10 hiking days and less than 85 miles, of which approximately 20 miles were on 4WD roads, i.e. White Rim, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP. Pack weight at onset of each hike did not exceed 23 lbs. No off trail scrambling or route finding occurred.
The intended use and expectation for the 109's was to thru-hike the Colorado Trail with a mileage life expectancy of 500 miles. From a risk management perspective I have removed this product from CT gear list. I was very tempted to try again, however this defect potentially reflects a lack of a validated manufacturing process i.e. time, temperature, pressure, and bonding material, all could be contributing factors.


Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   May 26, 2015 - 10:03pm
Left shoe lug about to rip off; right shoe completely missing one lug. Several other lugs are in bad shape.
Left shoe lug about to rip off; right shoe completely missing one lug. Several other lugs are in bad shape.
I have to agree with almost everything said in the above review; except that I have serious durability concerns with this shoe. I have had three pairs replaced through the warranty this year because of the sole failing; specifically the grey lugs rip off. I keep coming back to this shoe because of the comfort and performance, unfortunately they just don't last. My weakest pair started failing after a single 5k hike. My latest pair has a mere 50k of use, I am attaching a foto of these for you to judge yourself.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 1, 2016 - 05:36pm
La-riv · Climber · UT
Had these shoes for about six months and after numerous outings, the seams connecting the soles to the upper began falling apart. Luckily I can take these back to REI as it has certainly been less than a year and these shoes are already falling apart.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 22, 2016 - 12:07pm
There are much better options out there. I'm not sure why they gave it the top spot. I won't write a book about the problems and I'll narrow it down to two that made me stop wearing these altogether.

Shoelaces and proper lacing are obviously key elements for shoes. These shoelaces began degrading within the first two hiking campouts. Yes, I'm aware you can always go buy other shoelaces, but I shouldn't have to so soon. These shoes would not remain tied without a double knot and the fit would not remain while hiking because the shoelaces slowly gave way over time. I was retying my shoes about ever 200 yards until I put them in a double knot. But they continued to loosen over the top of my foot even when in a double knot.

What really made me do away with these shoes is the horrible support while standing and hiking. My lower back began hurting and I assumed I had tweaked my back, but as time went on I learned it was these shoes. I began standing for 20 minutes or so to test my theory and in fact my lower back would hurt. I continued testing for about eight months to give the shoes a chance to be as good as is reviewed by this site. I have not had this problem before nor after, only with these shoes. It would become worse if hiking in sandy or soft ground, and it wouldn't take long to truly become unbearable pain. I have had no lower back problems since moving on to another shoe.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 16, 2016 - 01:45am
Cervantesq · Snowboarder · Salt Lake City, UT
I purchased The North Face Ultra 109 GTX hiking shoes approximately one-year ago after reading many positive reviews. They performed very well during three-months of safari in Africa last year, and during day hikes in Utah. However, these shoes failed me recently while hiking in New Zealand.

I'm surprised Outdoor Gearlab has not yet updated its "editor's choice" recommendation of The North Face Ultra 109 GTX because my disappointing experience has been corroborated by other reviewers on this website (and by many reviewers on other sites too).

I learned recently that my experience was not an isolated one while I performed additional research to substantiate my warranty claim to The North Face (my initial claim was rejected by the "international" warranty dept. of TNF while I was traveling through Australia after my shoes failed me in New Zealand). Fortunately for me, TNF "America" accepted my warranty claim and shipped a brand new pair to me. I'm returning this new pair for following reasons.

Although the Ultra 109 GTX is an exceptionally comfortable hiking shoe, and it performs very well in wet conditions (they kept my feet completely dry while hiking intermittently during 48+ hours of steady, heavy rain in the Okavango Delta), there is a DESIGN DEFECT.

DESIGN DEFECT: The rigid, rubber toe-cap impacts the exterior membrane at the point where the shoe flexes while walking. Eventually, the toe-cap wears a hole through the Gore Tex membrane and The North Face Ultra 109 GTX shoes are no longer waterproof (they're not even water-resistant while walking in damp grass). I discovered this while hiking the Routeburn Track in NZ earlier this year. I was not a happy camper.

I noticed a few other reviewers have identified this same DESIGN FLAW, and although the Editors of Gearlab did state these shoes are not as durable as other shoes (and the toe flex point was an area of concern), I'm surprised this information has not been included as an update on this website. Apparently, The North Face is aware of the problem because the new "Hedgehog" and "Fast Pack" Gore Tex hiking shoes do not have a rigid, rubber toe-cap. The new model shoes from TNF have eliminated this feature.

This was my favorite pair of waterproof hiking shoes until the rubber toe-caps wore holes in both shoes.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 14, 2016 - 08:21am
DeRock · Climber · DE
Do not buy this shoe for anything besides well groomed trails. They have absolutely no traction on wet rock, concrete, or even asphalt. I learned this on my first hike/run when I landed flat on my back while hiking on damp boulders. There after they slipped on any wet rocky surface I tested them on. Very disappointing considering I bought this gore-tex shoe for wet weather and would be very dangerous to rely on in rocky, mountainous terrain.

They are very comfortable however very overpriced for the poor quality and cheap materials. Everything is single stitched and as I mentioned, they selected poor quality, soft rubber for the soles. Even the lugs are ripe to be ripped off after a couple uses. Although breathable, the mesh is also low quality and will tear if snagged.

I bought this shoe largely based on the review on outdoorgearlab, which is typically very good with gear recommendations. Sorry, guys you were way off with this one.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 27, 2015 - 09:02pm
rantia · Climber · Atlanta
The shoe had a wonderful fit and was very comfortable. However it has two major problems. The first is that it was not really waterproof. Neither shoe was — but given the other reviews this may be simply a problem with the pair I purchased. The second and more serious problem is to do with durability. As has been mentioned by other reviewers the sole lasted barely a couple of weeks worth of moderate hiking over the past few months. Not only did it wear really fast but bits started pealing and falling off. A pity, because it really fits my foot size and is very comfortable. A small note — I found the traction to be very good on dirt but only average on dry or wet rock (not exceptional in all conditions as the main review indicated).

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 26, 2015 - 05:00pm
Richard Skirko · Surfer · Fl
Outdoor GearLab gives this shoe a place at the top with an EDITORS CHOICE pick, but real buyers of the shoes say durability is very low, which means not dependable for hiking off beat trails. Something is definitely wrong when customers give low ratings but this site gives very good ratings?????? I hike in Alaska and need hiking shoes that are dependable as my July 2015 hike lasted three weeks in very rainy conditions which were not forecasted. On another note, my Henessy Hammock worked very well but you are very exposed for brown bears at night! Very comfortable to sleep in vs a tent with pad, as the ground was like ice.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 18, 2015 - 07:33am
martini · Climber · Helsinki
While I definitely had an overall good experience with this product, I cannot but agree with the previous reviews that it needs improvement. After about a year and a half of use (only moderately intense) the mesh on the front of the right shoe (between the third and the little toe) ripped open. I went to the NorthFace store in Munich but they told me that NorthFace has two separate units that deal with repairs&refund and since I had bought the shoes in the U.S. they couldn't do anything. I offered to pay for a repair myself (since I really liked the shoes, but that wasn't an option. So I just tried some home repair but it didn't help much. The rip only got bigger and the shoe is completely useless in even moderately wet conditions. Other than that I think it's a great shoe, but putting a mesh in such a weak spot of the shoe (basically were the toes bend when going uphill) was not a good idea. Given the price of these shoes I wouldn't have expected them to become useless so fast.
The mesh inside the rip comes from an attempted home repair after the NorthFace store told me they couldn't do anything about the problem.
The mesh inside the rip comes from an attempted home repair after the NorthFace store told me they couldn't do anything about the problem.


Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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