The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Trainer Shoe Review
By Will Lind
Images (clean shoes) courtesy of The N0rth Face
Images (dirty shoes) © Functional Running
I had mid to low expectations for The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Trainer. No offence to The North Face, I just don’t associate the brand with a strong running shoe presence. It could be purely a geographical thing, or simply a social thing, but never are the runners I’m around there isn’t much The North Face footwear presence in my neck of the woods.
Well, my shoe prejudice and I were both taken to school by the Ultra Kilowatt Trainer. A minimalistic build with more than a nod to comfort makes the Kilowatt’s a sturdy, comfortable ‘soft’ trail option – perfect for cruising on mid-length training runs with less aggressive terrain or recovery runs with plenty of room for the foot to sprawl and spread.
The caveat here is that the Kilowatt’s are of limited use in running. I just didn’t find enough confidence in build for me to really push the boundaries of our relationship on the trail. The Ultra Kilowatt are certainly competent but in a race or harder training situation where I want a feeling of security and confidence in the tread, I would opt for something else from my shoe stable.
Outside of running you should be comfortable rocking these in the gym setting for your strength workouts. This review sticks to their performance when it comes to running, but I can say they do a reasonable job in the gym too.
At 271 grams per shoe the Ultra Kilowatt come in heavier than some more performance appropriate brands yet they still sit well within the realms of being a light choice. The 4mm drop and moderately flexible sole put these firmly in the minimalist genre, yet minimalist aficionados might raise a curious eyebrow at the way the sole more bends in the middle than rolls up.
Don’t expect much support. Overall you’re going to want to be a confident neutral runner to be at home in the Ultra Kilowatt.
I see these as more like a quality highway cruising SUV delivering a comfortable ride for road trips where you can lock it in cruise control and settle in. Sharp single track, steep descents and consistent wet are all conditions outside the Kilowatt’s comfort zone.
I’ve put up towards 100km in the Ultra Kilowatt with very little wear and tear to show for it. The majority of that running has been trail with some flirtation with rougher terrain and interval sessions.
While I’ve been happy, I did read online about some fairly serious durability issues that you might want to check into yourself. I haven’t seen even a hint of similar problems and if I hadn’t done some snooping online I wouldn’t have known about them. These complaints aren’t hard to find, being they’re on the US The North Face site, if you want to have a read.
That’s for your information only, as the pair I have are holding up as well as any other shoe I’ve owned at this stage of their lifespan. In fact, there are some leading brands that have started to show significant wear in the upper at lesser mileage.
While they lack some of the flexibility of other minimalist brands, the Ultra Kilowatt are still strongly minimalist shoes, so don’t expect overly built up comfort or support. Despite that, the toe box felt broad with plenty of space for the forefoot and overall they were, well, sort of relaxed.
It wasn’t all ice cream and peaches though. I had ongoing arguments with the tongue that rode high and poked into me far too regularly. A small problem over a few steps but a major concern after an hour of running. Thankfully I could find ways to rearrange the tongue to clear the problem but it still returns every now and again.
If it’s of interest to you, here’s Ultra Kilowatt Trainer feature claims direct from the website:
- Minimal training shoe that’s reinforced in high-wear zones
- Upper: FlashDry™ upper wicks away sweat to keep you dry and reduces risk of getting blisters
- Rubber toe cap for added protection
- Breathable and protective Ultra Airmesh
- Reflective webbing for visibility in low-light conditions
- EVA footbed for lightweight comfort
- Pebax® plate and CRADLE™ provide energy return and proper foot placement
- Injection-molded EVA midsole
- Exclusive Vibram® rubber outsole
- Designed for runners with a neutral stride
Due to unfounded, uninformed pre-drawn conclusions I wasn’t expecting much from the Ultra Kilowatt Trainer. And no, they didn’t hit the ball out of the park and redefine the trail shoe industry. However, the Kilowatt’s definitely brought some game to the table. Limited in scope, the Kilowatt remain a great choice for low intensity running, absorption runs and junk miles where the real point is to smell the roses or talk smack with your run buds.
Check the durability notes above but I stand by the build of the shoes I used in context of the testing I performed.
If you want to check them out yourself, they’re on The North Face website with a hefty price tag of $200.
Do you own a pair of Ultra Kilowatt Trainers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.