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The North Face Ultra Traction FutureLight Is Tough Enough for Almost Any Trail

A grippy and durable rubber outsole highlights this hardy shoe.

the northface ultra traction future light
Lakota Gambill

The RW Takeaway: The North Face Ultra Traction FutureLight isn’t the quickest-feeling trail shoe, but its wide stance and tough outsole give it a stable ride over any terrain.

  • Full rubber outsole protects your feet from trail hazards
  • Two-layer midsole provides firm cushioning
  • FutureLight upper doesn’t live up to waterproof claims

    Price: $155
    Type: Trail
    Weight: 12.6 oz. (M), 10.4 oz. (W)
    Drop: 8mm

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    The Ultra Traction FutureLight is built like a tank, eschewing lightness and flexibility in favor of thickness and protection. The sole has a wide stance that helped some testers feel more stable over technical trails, and the full rubber outsole is a series of thick lugs with heights between 3.5mm and 4mm. The North Face says it varied the heights to improve traction, which the shoe has in spades: Most testers said it rivaled the best in the business, although the material faltered somewhat on wet rocks.

    Lakota Gambill
    Ultra Traction FutureLight
    The North Face

    • Lugged outsole provides grip and protection
    • Wide stance aids stability off-road

    • FutureLight upper isn’t particularly waterproof

    Two-Layer Midsole

    The midsole is a combination of foams: Low-density, high-rebound EVA is encased in a higher-density EVA. The combination is meant to provide softness while preventing the soft foam from packing out. And the durability is clear—we observed very little wear after months with the Ultra Traction FutureLight.

    the north face ultra traction future light
    The outsole is full rubber, with lugs of alternating lengths to grip the trail. It excelled on everything but wet rocks.
    Lakota Gambill

    The cushioning is on the firm side, which contributes to the shoe’s protective ability when you step on jagged rocks, but most testers thought it provided enough cushioning for soft-surface running (some said they wished it had a bit more plushness for long runs, though). “While landing on the surfaces from different heights, due to jumping off logs or off a ledge, I didn’t feel as though the shoe gave me a hard landing,” one tester said. “I didn’t feel the sharp stones or roots beneath my foot due to the right amount of cushioning.”

    The midsole lacks flexibility, making the shoe feel stiff and boxy, as several testers pointed out. Trail runners who prefer to bludgeon the rocks will like it better than those who favor minimal, flexible footwear.

    the north face ultra traction future light
    The shoe’s two-layer midsole provides firm and protective cushioning, although testers said the lack of flexibility made the shoe feel clunky at times.
    Lakota Gambill

    FutureLight Upper

    The “FutureLight” aspect costs you a premium—the regular Ultra Traction is $25 cheaper—and we’re not fully convinced it’s worth paying for. The nano-fiber membrane is spun in varied densities based on the desired breathability and durability of a given area of the shoe. The construction allows the company to make tiny holes that allow air to pass through, but not water, the company says.

    This implementation of FutureLight doesn’t live up to the material’s purported benefits, unfortunately. The upper doesn’t breathe well enough during humid summer runs (although it may retain heat well during winter), and it doesn’t repel water particularly well, either. We got wet as our feet sank into soggy trails, and one tester noted his feet were soaked after mowing his lawn after a rain. We’d save the $25 and spend it on a couple of decent pairs of socks.

    Apart from the FutureLight material, the upper is well-padded in the collar and tongue. That contributed to a snug and secure fit in the middle and rear of the shoe. The toe box is roomy; narrow-footed testers felt it was too wide.

    the north face ultra traction future light
    The FutureLight upper proved comfortable but not very waterproof, allowing moisture to pass through on soggy trails and wet grass.
    Lakota Gambill

    What Our Testers Said

    Brooke S., tester since 2016
    Arch: Medium | Pronation: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot

    The moment I picked up The North Face Women's Ultra Traction Futurelight, I noticed the bottom of the shoe and knew it would be a good traction shoe. I also noticed the weight. It first felt light, but in comparison to my Hoka Speedgoat 3’s, it felt quite heavy. I tested the shoes on trails covered in dirt, plenty of rocks on the AT, and modified stone. They were an average ride, but I did notice that on the ascents they gripped the surfaces I was on. On the descent, I had great traction as well, but my foot seemed to slip a little bit inside the shoe, allowing my toes to slam against the front, and I didn't feel as though I had good support in the forefoot. Honestly, I was happy to go back to my Hoka Speedgoats. These shoes would be good for a runner who doesn’t have a lot of experience on the trails and takes their runs a little less seriously than I do when descending the hills.

    Michael Y., tester since 2012
    Arch: Flat | Pronation: Overpronator | Footstrike: Midfoot

    I have nothing negative to say about the shoe, but nothing wowed me. To me, it is a tank of a shoe, being kind of boxy and average. The upper material seems to be very durable and tough, with a strong, protecting toe box, and fits my foot well. The tread is durable but not overly aggressive. I wore these shoes the most out of any shoes I have tested, and they show no signs of wear. I ran on the rocky AT trail, and the shoe felt very good, but it’s not a shoe to race on trails. I think they are supposed to be waterproof. I splashed some water and it went through the upper to my foot. Also on wet grass I felt the water on my foot. My feet didn’t get too hot at any time, like in some waterproof shoes.

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