Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Product Review – The North Face Goretex Trail Shoes

(not an endorsement, not a sponsored post)

I’ll start a product review series to help out folks who wanted to know more about certain products,  particularly the pros-cons when the said items are used in the field.  I usually get questions on gear matters so it would be best to post some every now and then.

This one talks about Goretex Trail shoes of The North Face, although I’m displaying a particular variant here – my experience overall (I’ve used maybe 7-8 pairs for the past 11yrs) are pretty much comparable so I lumped this as ‘TNF Goretex Trail shoes’ category.

I acquired this (pictured) specific pair of shoes with the initial intent of ‘travel use’,  as I still have a couple of dirty old ones stored somewhere, ready for a dirty terrain.   By ‘travel use’ I meant it’s only for airplanes, bus, city walks and occasional, insignificant hikes (30mins or so).   Hiking in the tropics simply means walking on muddy trails, crossing river, etc. which make waterproof shoes – dirty, ugly and with a shorter life span.  But traveling with only 1 pair, and I being genetically programmed to walk on mountains, and shoes being ‘mountain shoes by soul’ – the shoes eventually got exposed to a variety of terrains and conditions.  “It” walked on snow, concrete urban jungle, dry rock and sandy desert trails, climbed a bit of wall and of course – hiked through muddy and wet rainforest! 

Here are my observations and ratings… (I used rating numbers 1-poor to 10-perfect high)

1.     Performance in hiking/walking.  I’d score 8 or 9 (very high).  Assuming you got the size right (a half-size bigger or full size bigger if you use thick socks), stability was superb, traction on dry terrain was great (including inclined rock walls), weight felt just right for hiking (not heavy, not too light). Muddy terrain will always be a challenge no matter what brand or style of shoes, and using trail shoes for snow is not ‘as designed’ (but I did anyway) so that’s a bonus.  I’ve used TNF shoes in an unexpected 1ft snow in the Pyrenees and dry-snow in the Italian  and Swiss Alps, I didn’t have gaiters so the only insignificant wetness was from the little snow that went inside.

Walking in the Swiss Alps near Matterhorn (2014), shoes is waterproof and lightly padded and worked well in this shallow 'hard' snow trail.

2.     Performance – waterproof feature.  9 of 10. It’s Goretex.  Snow and rainwater are repelled easily.  But this (Goretex) is an issue if you use the same shoes for river/water crossing as the water will be trapped inside.  (I didn’t experience this for this specific pair, was able to hop on rocks or cross bridge in my rainforest hike).  Overtime, shoe cracks will reduce waterproof rating.   Performance – breathability:  for most waterproof shoes of any brand I’d rate 4 or 5 (med rating).  I tend to generate a lot of foot heat when moving and mostly any waterproof shoes or boots won’t keep up (venting out heat) with the rate of thermal build up.
Bukidnon mountains (2014).  Grueling long hikes (2days of 13h each) traversing Dulang Dulang and Kitanglad, and day-hike of Kalatungan.  Terrain is a mix of forest, grassy and rocky ridge, muddy and wet-from-heavy rain lowland trails.

3.     Performance – running.  Most TNF trail shoes were meant as ultra-running shoes.  I have not used this pair for running, but I’ve used a similar brand for adventure races in the past.  Road use: rate 3-4 low.  It’s bulky vs. regular running shoes.  Trail use: 8 high.   Adventure race: 4-5 (low-to-mid) for tropics given almost-sure water soaking (river/lake/mud-flood), this shoes doesn’t drain water. But at least it can provide better protection on very rough terrain (i.e. padded/ cushioned).
4.     Durability. 10years ago, I’d rate such shoes as 4 or 5, typically a +10day hike (1 trip) will either break the front lips, and start a ‘yawn’ in front. Over the years, I think TNF’s gluing improved and so far my past 2 or 3 shoes survived the test of time and abuse.  I’d rate 7 for this brand that I’m using now, but it’s still intact and highly functional so this could climb to 9 after another significant trip.   Tip: if you plan to abuse your pair of any brand, say +15day hikes especially on rough, rocky or moraine trails, better switch to boots, or bring super glue.
5.     Comfort.  For hiking / walking – a high 8.  It’s padded.  Symmetry and fit is right for my feet and walking style.  Comfort for travel – I’d rate 6, it’s light better than boots but flat shoes or lighter trainers are generally more comfortable and friendly for the feet (this one has thick outer sole meant for rough terrain).  Tip: since bringing more than 1 pair is not recommended for light packing/ traveling (“1 shoe does all”), rest feet by removing shoes in airplane, while seated in airport, bus, etc. Best elevate the legs, or do occasional ‘Indian sit’ to reduce blood ‘filling’ (worse clotting) in the lower limbs.  Thin socks should be fine to better vent out foot heat.  I normally tie the shoes loose to make it more breathable and for easier on-and-off wear.
Arches Park, Utah USA (2015).  Shoes is perfect for dry rock terrain.

6.     Cost.   130-150usd.  So far, I’d rate 8 (if the use vs. cost is worth it). This current shoes is still solid so well worth it.   Been to the Alps, the muddy mountains of Bukidnon, Desert rock of Utah/Arizona, and few cities here and abroad.

7.     Aesthetics.  Outdoor /travel fashion look, 8-9 very high.  I like the design and overall appearance – manly/macho, sporty, outdoorsy, not flashy.  Obviously, it’s not meant for office or first-time date in a flashy resto. 
Dangling my feet (low-right) on a rock cliff above Rio's vibrant beach-city.

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