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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > The North Face Ultra Fastpack GTX boots > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX (mens)
Test series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: October 6, 2014
Field Report: January 9, 2015
March 3, 2015 Long Term Report
Side view of The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing/kayaking and most other outdoor activities, but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
The The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX is a lightweight, waterproof, breathable boot designed to offer maximum protection over any terrain. The boot is truly very lightweight in my opinion. It is also comfortable to wear and I have already verified that it is waterproof. Testing will tell if it holds up over time and rough terrain. The boot stands approximately 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) tall at the heel and is slightly taller towards the front ankle area. It features four pairs of lower eyelets, then a single pair of slightly different style lace holder at the hinged area, followed by two pairs of speed lace hooks at the top. The lace material is nothing fancy, just a typical round shoe lace that appears to be made of some type synthetic material. Here are the key features according to the web site.
Mid-cut fastpacking boot with Gore-Tex waterproof protection
Upper: Water-resistant, minimal-weight upper material
GORE-TEX waterproof membrane
TPU quarter weld for structure
Reinforced toe cap protection
Pebax shank and Snake Plate for lightweight protection with energy return
Injection-molded, dual-durometer EVA midsole
Vibram rubber outsole
TPU CRADLE heel-stability technology
These sound like good features for a boot but one in particular caught my attention. "A lightweight Pebax plate puts a little spring in your step and delivers impact protection alongside a rigid Snake Plate that prevents stone bruising." I can always use a little extra spring in my step.... The one feature not listed that I am always curious about is the heel-to-toe drop (often called stack height). I have been wearing zero drop or very minimal drop shoes for several years in my lighter trail runners and find boots or shoes with a lot of stack height make me feel clumsy. For the record, I find the feel of these boots outstanding in that regard. The sole is not all that aggressive looking but I have tried it on some pretty slick terrain and it grips rather well. The FastPack is offered in men's and women's models and in Gore-Tex (waterproof) and a non-waterproof version.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX sole
Trying them on
Ordering a pair of boots online is always chancy unless there is an opportunity to try on the exact style beforehand. I was unable to try on any The North Face boots or shoes, much less the Ultra Fastpack Mid, so I took the safe route and requested a size 12 for testing. I got lucky because they fit perfectly and there is plenty of toe room. I barefoot a lot and I am super sensitive to any shoe or boot that cramps my toes. For reference, I normally wear a 11.5 E and when a wide is not offered I usually go up a half size. However, I have owned 11s that fit perfectly and tried on 12s that were too small. My recommendation is to try on/buy a pair if possible or deal with an online retailer that has a good return/exchange policy.
Trying them out
My first opportunity to wear them was while going to Huntsville for a long day at the Heart Center while my wife had some test ran, followed by a visit with her doctor. I paced the floors inside the center, hit the stairs and parking lot several times, and walked two block over to the main hospital and visited some friends. When we got home she insisted we go walking so we did 1.66 miles (2.7 km) in 30 minutes on a hilly road route. I wore them the following day running more errands in town and another afternoon walk with the wife, this time 1.85 miles (3 km) in 30 minutes. We walked 2.07 (3.3 km) miles the following morning in 30 minutes. Notice a trend, we are getting faster, maybe the lightweight Pebax plate is kicking in... I took the next day off for church and NASCAR but we picked up a used treadmill on the way home from church that night. After loading it onto my pickup, hauling it home and then wrestling it in the house I was pretty much tuckered out but I decided to give it a go. I put on the Ultra Fastpack Mids and walked 1.3 miles (2.1 km) in 30 minutes. I know that sounds slow but I was walking at an incline of around 8% most of the time and even briefly tried the treadmill at 15%. They were just fine on the treadmill but this is a hiking boot so who cares. Fortunately, I had a chance to walk to the holler the following morning (that would be today as I am writing this report). I wore an over the shoulder day pack with some water, my phone, toilet paper (I never leave home without it if I can help it) etc. The trail down to the holler is steep. I normally use hiking poles because it is so steep and especially if the trail is damp. It was sprinkling rain as I headed out (but stopped raining shortly thereafter) so I grabbed them. However, I think I would have been fine leaving them home. The traction on the Ultra Fastpack was superb. I loved that my toes did not feel squished on the steep downhill sections. I did notice that the right foot was a little tighter and could feel my toes touching just a little but it was not an issue. I've noticed the same with other shoes, I think my right foot is just slightly bigger. Of course once I arrived at the creek I had to test the waterproofness of the boots. I was careful to stay in slower moving water only a few inches deep so as not to get water over the tops but they appear to be waterproof. This water is also very cold and I was pleased that my feet did not get cold even though I stayed in the water several minutes. Besides the cold water, I have worn them in temperatures ranging from a high of 88 F (31 C) to a low of 46 F (8 C). I've worn a single pair of medium weight wool hiking/boot socks each time but not the same pair each time. I have not had any problem with my feet sweating or becoming too cold under these conditions.
Summary so far
Wading in The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
With about 8 miles (13 km) wearing them I am really liking them but I need more trail miles to properly evaluate them. I do know they were comfortable right out of the box and have become even more comfortable with a little break-in. I'm leery to even use the term "break-in" because these boots were soft and pliable right off the bat. I especially like how lightweight these boots feel. I hope that by being waterproof I can wear these for hiking all winter since keeping my feet dry helps keep them warm. I'll close the Initial Report with a few more photos of the boot from different angles.
Heel of The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
Front view of The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
Inside view of The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
Test Locations and Conditions
My testing was conducted on local trails here in Northeast Alabama. Temperatures have ranged from very warm for fall to cold for winter, which translates from around 85 F (29 C) down to 14 F (-10 C). Trail conditions have been dry for the most part but I did hike in some pretty wet conditions several times. I also had to deal with frost on the grass on several mornings. I have not been able to overnight hike in them yet but did use them for exercise hikes and for hunting. While hunting I did quite a bit off trail hiking when I looked for new scrapes and doing a bit of scouting. One condition not trail related but that did effect my testing was that my plantar fasciitis took a turn for the worse. I'll explain later. I also wore good wool socks most of the time, especially on the coldest days of testing.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the comfort of the Ultra Fastpack boots. The bottom of the boot might be a tad stiffer than a regular running shoe but I really did not notice it feeling stiff. I could definitely tell that they are more flexible than any hiking boot I have ever had the pleasure of wearing. However, they still felt like they were offering all the support I needed, not that I tend to roll my ankles while hiking. This was especially true when hiking on uneven terrain with all my hunting gear which was right around 50 lbs (23 kg) when I was carrying my tree stand. And no, my tree stand does not weigh 50 lb (23 kg), more like 24 lbs (11 kg), but I like to carry a few extras, like a thermos full of coffee, so by the time I add all my gear (full body harness, tree spider safety descender, gear pull up rope etc) my hunting pack weighs in right at 25 lb (11 kg).
Hunting with The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX
The first couple of weeks after getting the boots naturally coincided with the warmest testing opportunities. I remember one afternoon when I wore them for a hike to the holler. I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt and was still sweating during my hike. I took advantage of the warm temperatures and took my boots off for some wading in the cold creek water. Hiking back home with the shoes on felt OK, but I could tell they were a bit overkill for these type conditions.
I wore them on several warm mornings and afternoons carrying my tree stand and gear just slightly over a quarter of a mile (around .5 km) to my favorite hunting spot. This involved going down a slight hill, crossing a small creek and then back up hill (all in the woods) then crossing a pasture with another hill before entering the woods. Later in the year I did this same hike with frost on the ground, both with and without the tree stand after erecting a small portable blind.
On the fateful day that I re-aggravated my plantar fasciitis I decided to hunt a new area. I was carrying my tree stand and all the gear involved. The hike in was right at a mile (1.6 km), and also over much steeper terrain. It was mostly downhill getting to my tree so of course this meant it would be mostly uphill headed back. After sitting for about three hours I decided to call it a day. As I was descending the tree I noticed my left foot/heel was tender, but after walking a little it was not too bad. It took me just over an hour to hike out. I took my time and even ended up crawling up some of the steepest sections on the trail. Anyways, the next day I could barely walk. I took a break from any type of hiking for several days and slowly was able to get back out in the woods. But ever since that day, I have been leery of hiking for long distances or with a heavy pack. I stopped using my tree stand so that I would not have to carry as much weight. I still went hunting and on several short day hikes but took my time. When hiking to the holler I used hiking poles to help keep the stress off my feet. Even doing this it has been a crap-shoot to to see if I overdid it. Sometimes a hike would not seem to bother me while other times would result in a very tender foot for several days.
It did turn very cold the last week of this part of my review. I went hunting in my blind on one morning when the temperatures were right around 22 F (-6 C). I think it may have been slightly warmer inside my blind but I did notice my feet felt a little chilly after sitting about an hour. I stayed out two more hours but it was gradually warming up so my feet did not get any colder. Two days later I went for a late afternoon hike to the holler when the temperature was 32 F (0 C). It cooled to 29 F (-2 C) by the time I got back home. The trail was mostly dry and as hard as a brick, but a few places were exposed to sun and had thawed a little and were very slick. I used my trekking poles but was thrilled with the traction the Ultra Fastpack boots provided. There was some ice on the rocks at the creek but at no time did my feet feel cold while I spent several minutes looking around and taking some photos. Here is one on the ice.
It has been colder then 14 F (-10 C) but I was not wearing the boots then. The time I did wear them at 14 F (-10 C) was after the low tire pressure light came on on my wife's car. I was out in the cold for about 15 minutes adding air to all four tires but the boots kept my feet nice and warm. My hands were not as lucky and got very cold.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid GTX on ice
Summary So Far
I am just going to come right out and say it. The Ultra Fastpack boots are awesome. This is coming from a bonafide trail runner type shoe wearer. They are extremely comfortable to wear. I found them to be light yet supportive. The traction is about as good as it gets. They were good for hiking in warm and cold weather. But most impressive is that they never leaked a drop. An insulated version would be nice for hunting but this is really not what they are designed for.
Long Term Testing Locations and Conditions
During the last phase of testing winter arrived in full force. I was able to test the boots during snow and ice events as well as just cold and rainy conditions. All testing was in North East Alabama, mostly while hiking on local trails but sometimes while just out and about in my yard, at work or a trip to town. I also wore them while hunting the remainder of the deer hunting season which ended January 31. On February 14th I cut my hand and ended up needing stitches, but alas, I waited too long before going to the emergency room so they applied Steri-Strips. I had to wear a bandage for a week and then keep it dry and pretty immobile for another so this kept me semi grounded. I still was able to go for day hikes but was limited to using a single hiking pole. The trails were wet and slick most of the time so while two hiking poles would have been better, the traction the Ultra Fastpacks offered was appreciated.
Long Term Performance
I have continued to be impressed with the performance of the Ultra Fastpack boots. They have kept my feet warm and dry in all conditions. The traction of these boots is excellent. However, the most important thing they have been is comfortable, and by that I mean I have never had any problems with blisters or my feet getting sore in the shoes after wearing them all day.
I wore the boots while doing a one night trip on January 19th. It had been very cold the previous week so I was glad to see some warmer temperatures. I hiked about 4 miles (6 km) total with a pack weight of around 25 lb (11 kg). The temperatures ranged from 51 F (11 C) that evening down to 41 F (5 C) the next morning. I stayed on relatively flat trails during the hike but still worked up a pretty good sweat before reaching my camp site for the night. However, my feet did not sweat as much as my upper body. I did notice my wool socks were slightly damp and was concerned this might be a problem since I was planning on wearing clothes in place of a sleeping bag, however, they dried quickly while I relaxed in my hammock a couple of hours before putting on my booties for the night. Had it been colder I would have had to put the booties on regardless of whether my socks were wet or not. It was cool but not cold the next morning and my feet were just barely damp after hiking the 2 miles (3 km) back home.
I went on several more day hikes to the holler. On one such hike it was approximately 25 F (-4 C) during the hike but my feet did not get cold at all. I was moving most of the time but I did hike very slowly for the mostly uphill mile hike (1.6 km) back home. I was using a single hiking pole due to the bandage on my left hand but the traction of the boots more than made up for the missing pole.
Hiking with my bandaged hand
A week later we had a sleet and snow event that left everything very slick outside. I did not hike in the woods but did end up wearing the boots while out in it for several hours. I was impressed with the traction these boots provided on my concrete driveway and I had no problem at all while walking in the grass. Here are the boots in my yard.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack in in a sleet/snow mixture
On February 25th we had a pretty big snow event for our area. Grant Alabama got 11.5 inches (29 cm) officially. Anyways, I wore the Fastpack boots for several hours that afternoon while out taking pictures of the snow. There was about 4 inches (10 cm) on the ground when I first ventured out and about 6 inches (15 cm) when I came back inside. My feet stayed warm and dry but I did have on some waterproof pants over sweatpants. The pants were slightly too long for me but this just meant they stayed down over my boots better. I ended up walking about a mile (1.6 km) while out taking pictures around the neighborhood and down at the bluff.
Hiking down to the bluff in The North Face Ultra Fastpack boots
The North Face Ultra Fastpack in deep snow
The next morning I got up and hiked to the holler. It had snowed several more inches during the night and since I don't own snowshoes I chose to wear some high top rubber boots. They have a much bigger footprint than the Ulta Faspack boots do and would also help keep my legs warm in the deep snow. I still ended up sinking close to the top of the 18 inch (46 cm) boots several times. However, after returning home I decided to drive up to the school and take some more photos. I changed into the Ultra Fastpack boots. I would stop and get out of my truck to take pictures and I was still sinking up to my knees in places but the waterproof pants kept the snow from entering the top of the boots so my feet stayed dry. Thinking back, I probably would have been just as well of wearing the Ultra Fastpacks to the holler a few hours earlier.
My plantar fasciitis has continued to keep me from doing long hikes. I actually found that going barefoot allowed me to walk up to 2 miles (3 km) without much pain and they would feel better the next day. Having said that, I did wear the Ultra Fasstpacks as much as possible during the test. I found they worked great for all conditions encountered. I was really surprised at how warm they kept my feet on the several occasions I wore them while temperatures were well below freezing and especially when the boots were continuously exposed to deep snow. I liked that when I got the boots muddy I could rinse them with my garden hose and not get my feet wet. If a hose was not handy I often would find a puddle of water on pavement and just stomp around in it a little. I also liked that the boots required no break in. They really are just as comfortable as my favorite tennis shoes. It isn't often I find boots that are tough, lightweight, waterproof and comfortable but The North Face Ultra Fastpacks are just that!
This concludes my testing of The North Face Ultra Fastpack boots. Thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and The North Face for this testing opportunity.
Read more gear reviews by Coy Ray Starnes
Reviews > Footwear > Boots > The North Face Ultra Fastpack GTX boots > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
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